Marion Local overcame a slow start, junk defenses, and some big shots by St Henry with some big plays of its own to win the District title.
Wapakoneta—All District finals should be like this.
The Marion Local Flyers and the St Henry Redskins met for the second time this season, but the first time in three months, and gave a sold-out crowd at Wapakoneta High School something to remember.
Nate Bruns hit a jumper out of the paint to give the Flyers the lead, and Marion made two stops in the final 11 seconds to secure a 39-38 overtime win over the Redskins and advance to the Regional semifinals Tuesday night at Fairmont’s Trent Arena.
When the teams first met on December 22 at Marion, the Flyers rocked the Redskins 77-40. Flyer coach Kurt Goettemoeller knew the rematch would be a different kind of game.
“No question,” Goettemoeller said. “We practiced against the box and one and triangle and two for weeks anticipating this would happen. We still didn’t execute very well early and the stuff we put in really wasn’t working so we just went and ran motion offense. We told them to just go make basketball plays.”
Three nights after playing almost flawlessly in a 61-31 semifinal rout of New Bremen, the Flyers had to scrape, scratch and claw for every point against the now 21-4 Redskins. Midway through the second quarter, St.Henry’s patient four-corner offense and tenacious defense had the Redskins in front 14-6.
Marion scored the final 5 points of the half and the first 4 of the second half, taking their first lead at 15-14 on a Tyler Mescher free throw. The lead lasted only seconds.
Zach Niekamp, a 6-1 junior, immediately gave the Redskins the lead back with a three from the right wing. After Marion regained the lead 22-21 early in the fourth, Niekamp struck with another trey, this one from the right corner. With the score tied at 24, it was Niekamp again giving St Henry the lead with a third three, this one from the left corner.
Another Mescher free throw tied the game at 27 with a minute left, and while both teams had chances, neither team scored again in regulation.
How close was it? 6 ties, 8 lead changes, and neither team had a second half lead larger than 3 until Tyler Prenger hit a baseline drive to put the Flyers up 4 midway through the overtime.
Curtis Uhlenhake and Tyler Schlarman hit threes to keep the Redskins in it, and St Henry led 38-37 with 25 seconds to play. Marion got the ball to Bruns, and the 6-6 senior game through, knocking down a jumper inside the foul line for a 39-38 advantage.
Bruns downplayed the importance of his game winner.
“I don’t even think that was the biggest play. Our defense really won the game for us. The shot went down, and we were able to make two stops in the last ten seconds. I am just really happy for our team.”
Following a timeout, the Redskins took the ball inside, but turned it over. Mescher picked up the loose ball and heaved it the length of the court, where it went out of bounds with 2.8 seconds to play.
Redskins coach Eric Rosenbeck argued for more time on the clock, but after a mid-court conference, and a collective shake of their heads, the officials refused. The Redskins long, three quarters court pass was intercepted by Justin Albers, and the Flyers had their District championship.
“We got the ball inside more in the second half,” Goettemoeller explained. “We got to the line a lot because they were fouling us , holding our cutters, holding our two main guys. We just did enough. I don’t even know how the hell we did it.”
Schlarman, playing his last game in a St Henry uniform, was a beast, scoring 16 points, including 4 threes, and grabbing 11 rebounds. Niekamp, on the strength of those treys, finished with 11, but the rest of the Redskins only managed 10 points.
The Flyers had better balance, led by Bruns who finished with 12. Tyler Prenger had 8, and Mescher and Albers both finished with 7.
“This is an awesome feeling,” Bruns said after helping cut down the net. “Especially for the seniors. We have been working really hard to get here, and we didn’t want to go home tonight.
“We thought they might run their four corner on us, and our man just wasn’t getting it done. We switched to a zone, and that helped. We knew it was going to be a low scoring game, and we had to make every possession count.”
As you might imagine, shooting percentages for both teams were woeful. The Flyers were 11 of 35 from the floor for 31%, 3 of 19 from the arc for 15%, and a horrendous 14 of 28 from the line. Marion missed numerous chances to put the game away, missing 10 free throws in the second half alone.
The Redskins were 14 of 36 from the floor for 38%, but made on 8 of 28 threes for 28%. In a fierce, intense, physical, defensive battle for the district title, the Redskins DID NOT SHOOT A FREE THROW IN REGULATION and ended 2 for 2 on the night.
The Redskins had a 29-20 advantage on the boards, but were hurt by 15 turnovers, compared to 8 for the Flyers.
“I think Rosie (Redskins coach Rosenbeck) had a great game plan, and none of it was a surprise,” Goettemoeller explained. “We knew if they got the lead they were going four corners and we knew they would play a junk defense. We just couldn’t make shots, and when they went up by 8, I knew we were in trouble. That’s why we switched from man to the 1-3-1 and that helped us get back in the game.
“This is exactly what you dream of for a district final game. Sold-out crowd, two twenty-win teams, the best in your league, your chief rival. All those things come together in a one-point overtime win, it’s everything you dream about as a player and a coach.”
“You hear coaches say this all the time,” Goettemoeller said, as he headed back to a group of well-wishers. “If you want to make a long tournament run, you have to find a way to survive on nights when you don’t play well. Our free throw shooting was horrific tonight, and hopefully will be better down the road. But it’s survive and advance at this time of year baby, and we were able to do it by a nose.”
Bruns said he and his teammates have been on a mission all season.
“We have been to the regional three of the last four years, and it’s our goal to finally get over the hump and get to state. This is a great win. Friday night basketball, the place was packed and it got really loud. To get a win like that, over a league rival like St Henry, it’s awesome. But it is just another step in what we want to do as a team.”